Introduction: This morning we sang the great song, “It is Well With My Soul.” Horatio Spafford wrote it, and many people have heard the story behind that hymn. It involves the drowning of his four daughters and a shipwreck in 1873. The other night at our Midweek Bible Study, I told the rest of the story, how the Spaffords had other pressures and tragedies—too many to bear. Eventually they gathered a little group around them and moved to Jerusalem to await the Lord’s return. They purchased a large home for their commune (which is today a luxury hotel owned by descendants of the Spafford family), and one day in the late 1800s the famous British General Charles Gordon was visiting the Spaffords there. He was on the roof of their house looking out over the horizon when he spotted a hillside that looked rocky and had the general appearance of a skull. Investigating further, he found a nearby garden tomb. And it’s quite likely that he located Calvary. Today it’s known as Gordon’s Calvary. Well, we can’t be certain of exactly where the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus took place in the vicinity of Jerusalem. I think Gordon’s Calvary is a very likely possibility. But whenever we read Luke 23, we are visiting there and we are on holy ground. Especially interesting are the five times when Luke presents declarations of Christ’s innocence (His righteousness).
1. Our Lord’s Trials (v. 1-25)
- V. 1-2: Notice the three charges brought against Christ: (1) He was subverting the nation; (2) He opposed paying taxes; (3) He claimed to be Christ, a King.
- V. 3-4: The first two accusations were so ridiculous Pilate didn’t even take them up. His interest was aroused by the third indictment. Even then, he wasn’t concerned about Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah. His interest was purely in whether or not Jesus was claiming a political role, the title of king. Jesus confirmed that He was, indeed, a king. Pilate saw no threat and rendered his verdict: “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” This is the first of five times in this chapter when Jesus Christ is declared to be innocent.
- V. 5: This verse follows the geographical pattern of Luke’s Gospel—starting in Galilee and traveling to Jerusalem.
- V. 6-16: Luke is the only Gospel writer who mentioned that Jesus was also placed on trial before Herod. Both governors were in Jerusalem for the Passover, and Jesus was sent from one to the other and back to the first. Luke also mentions this in Acts 4:27-28. Something about this transaction healed a rift between Pilate and Herod, but the exact nature of the communication between the two men is unknown. The important thing to notice is that Herod also found nothing wrong with Christ. Here we have the second declaration of innocence, as both Herod and Pilate find nothing for which to condemn the Savior.
- V. 17-25: It was the custom for the Roman Governor to use the occasion of the Passover to commute the sentence of a Jewish prisoner. Pilate assumed he would use Jesus as the object of mercy; but the crowd shouted for Barabbas. We know nothing about Barabbas except for these cryptic references in the Gospels. He is, however, a sort of symbol for you and me. Jesus went to the cross and Barabbas, who deserved it, was set free. For the third time Pilate declares Jesus innocent. Notice the phrase: “And their shouts prevailed.”
2. Our Lord’s Final Sermon (v. 26-31)
3. Our Lord’s Crucifixion (v. 32-49)
- V. 32-39: The scene at the cross. Notice the different names and titles used for Christ in these verses:
- V. 34: Jesus
- V. 35: The Christ of God
- V. 35: The Chosen one
- V. 36: The King of the Jews
- V. 38: The King of the Jews
- V. 39: the Christ
- V. 40-41: The fourth declaration of innocence: “This man has done nothing wrong.”
- V. 47-49: The fifth declaration of innocence: By the Roman centurion.
4. Our Lord’s Burial (v. 50-56)
Conclusion: In an old biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Headley and Austin relate the story of a dying captain in the Civil War, a man shot through both thighs at Shiloh. As he was carried off the field the next day mortally wounded, he said: “While lying there, I suffered intense agony from thirst. I leaned my head upon my hand, and the rain from heaven was falling around me. In a little while a pool of water formed under my elbow, and I thought, if I could only get to that puddle, I might quench the burning thirst…. But was unable… By and by, night fell, and the stars shone out clear and beautiful above the dark field, and I began to think of that great God who had given His Son to die a death of agony for me, and that He was up there—up above the scene of suffering and above those glorious stars; and I felt that I was going home to meet Him and praise Him there; and I felt that I ought to praise God, even wounded and on the battle field. I could not help singing that beautiful hymn: ‘When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies, / I’ll bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.’ There was a Christian brother in the brush near me. I could not see him, but I could hear him. He took up the strain, and beyond him another and another caught it up, all over the terrible battlefield of Shiloh. That night the echo was resounded, and we made the field of battle ring with hymns of praise to God.”[i]
[i] Phineas Camp Headley and George Lowell Austin, The Life and Deeds of Gen. U. S. Grant (Boston: B.B. Russell, 1885), 114-115